Erik the Opera Ghost, better known as the Phantom of the Opera, is the titular character and antagonist of Gaston Leroux’s 1910 novel The Phantom of the Opera and its many adaptations. Along with having had a history in Disney Parks, he briefly appeared in drafts for the Haunted Mansion and inspired some elements within it and its Paris counterpart, Phantom Manor.
Erik was born horribly deformed, resembling a corpse more than a man. While ugly and volatile, he was exceptionally talented. Concealed by a mask, he became a master musician and illusionist. After traveling around the world, he eventually took residence in the catacombs underneath the Palais Garnier in Paris, becoming the resident opera ghost. He extorted the managers for money, threatening the performers if things didn’t go his way.
He eventually came across a ballet dancer named Christine Daae. Claiming to be the angel of music sent by her father, he taught her how to sing. He fell in love with her, growing possessive of her. When she planned to elope with her childhood friend Raoul de Chagny, he kidnapped her and gave her an ultimatum - marry him or blow up the Opera House with everyone in it. She agreed and kissed him. So touched by her act of selflessness, he let her go, learning the errors of his ways. Erik was never seen again, dying of a broken heart.
The park incarnations of Erik most resemble his incarnation from the 1925 horror film in-which he was played by horror-legend Lon Chaney Sr. This film's story in regards to Erik is very similar to that of the book with the exception that here the Phantom is killed by an angry mob by the end.
The Haunted Mansion
A small tribute to Erik's live appearances can be found outside of the Haunted Mansion in Disneyland. Within a New Orleans Square popcorn machine known as, "Popcorn outside the Haunted Mansion" there is a "roastie toastie" popcorn turner doll. While officially referred to as an undertaker, he was made to resemble the Phantom of the Opera. This was included due to said depiction of the Phantom having a connection to Disney Park history.
When developing the Haunted Mansion, Ken Anderson intended on famous monsters and ghosts to make cameo appearances throughout the attractions. Erik was intended to be one of these characters, alongside Count Dracula, Frankenstein’s Monster, Quasimodo, Captain Hook, Jacob Marley, and the Headless Horseman of Sleepy Hollow. Count Dracula was the only character that was utilized in the mansion.
According to The Haunted Mansion: Imagineering a Disney Classic, a character inspired by the Phantom appeared around the Disneyland Mansion during the 1980s, alongside the Knight of the Living Dead. He wandered the queue and greeted guests at the entrance. The Opera Singers in the graveyard are sometimes nicknamed "The Phantoms of the Opera" - a play on the novel’s title. It is also possible that the Organist in the great hall was also inspired by Erik, being a phantom organist.
In the 1960s, Erik appeared as a walk-around character on Main Street U.S.A. at Disneyland, wandering near the Main Street Cinema. The Phantom here was modelled after his appearance in the 1925 Universal film starring Lon Chaney Sr which started playing at the theatre at the park. It could be possible that the implication of his appearances is that he (or a Phantom character resembling Erik) inhabited the Main Street Cinema (set in Marceline, Missouri) similarly to how Erik inhabited the Paris opera-house.
Phantom Manor was very influenced by The Phantom of the Opera, specifically the Andrew Lloyd Webber stage musical. Many of the attraction’s storybeats are borrowed from the original story, including the following -
- Henry Ravenswood, the Phantom, was very possessive of Melanie Ravenswood, much like how Erik was with Christine.
- Melanie planned on eloping with a train engineer, against her father’s wishes, much like how Christine planned on eloping with Raoul against Erik’s wishes.
- The Phantom appeared suddenly in the great hall during a large gathering, much like how Erik crashed the masquerade at the Palais Garnier.
- It was likely that his skeletal appearance was inspired by the red death costume during the masquerade scene.
- The original Phantom animatronic in Phantom Canyon resembled the description of Erik from the novel.
- The Phantom’s identity could be a play on the story-beat of Erik posing as an angel sent by Christine’s father.
- The Phantom of the Opera, Frankenstein's monster, Quasimodo, Count Dracula and Mister Hyde are the only classic Universal movie monsters known to have been proposed to appear in the Haunted Mansion. Of them, only Count Dracula and an alternate version of Mr. Hyde would appear.
- Jason Surrell. The Haunted Mansion: Imagineering a Disney Classic. pg 96.